My Perfect Deer Rifle

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I must admit that I’m always a bit leery to tackle articles about the best rifle for a particular application, for no other reason than I like shooting many different rifles and at the end of the day, there typically is no one best answer. So, when I was asked to give my thoughts on the perfect deer rifle, it was with a bit of trepidation that I agreed.

Truthfully, the rifle that’s in your hand when that big buck walks out in front of you is the perfect one at that moment, but what about the hunter that is considering picking up a new rifle with the express purpose of hunting deer? This would include everything from the tiny black tails of the west coast to the monster white tails of the boreal forest to the huge-bodied muleys of the open prairie. Is there really such thing as the perfect deer rifle? I think so, with a few caveats of course.


The rifle

There’s no question in my mind that the perfect all-round deer rifle would be a bolt action. The reliable, bomb-proof action never fails to cycle and the ability for a fast follow up shot, if required, and the inherent accuracy of bolt-action rifles makes them a natural here.

While semi autos may be well suited to some of the heavier bush country, they don’t make ideal long range rifles because they typically can’t provide the type of accuracy that a bolt action can. As well, the action on the semi auto is not as reliable as a bolt action, especially when dirty or in extreme temperatures. I have killed countless deer with single-shot rifles and there is no question that they are typically very accurate and will operate in any condition, but the repeating ability of the bolt action edges out the single shot because, after all, we are talking about the perfect deer rifle here.

The rifle would be fairly lightweight as some deer hunting, especially in the mountains, does require long days with it slung over your shoulder. I’d say less than seven pounds for the bare rifle would be the minimum requirement and, personally, I wouldn’t mind something in the six-and-a-half-pound range. For those that have packed a rifle for days on end, across the desolate prairies or in the high basins of the Rockies, weight is a huge consideration, even in a deer rifle.

With weight in mind, the rifle would undoubtedly be equipped with a composite stock to keep the weight down, plus add to the durability. While I appreciate a rifle with a fine wood stock on it, the perfect deer rifle would be very utilitarian and one would not want to worry about looking after a wood stock or the effects of temperature and humidity.

Obviously the rifle would need to have a stainless action and barrel, again for durability and ease of maintenance, and to keep the rig as stealthy as possible I’d want a dull powder coat or similar finish to keep the glare down. Even a bead-blasted stainless would be fine, just so long as the sun cannot glare off it and catch a white tail’s attention at an inopportune time.

I’d opt for a barrel in the 22-inch range as well, in order the keep the rifle a bit more compact for use in tree stands and blinds or when hunting the heavy cover. A person would sacrifice a small amount of velocity here, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be overcome with a proper scope. As this rifle is going to be called upon to do long-range duty as well, I’d be sure the rifling twist was appropriate for heavy-for-calibre bullets.

The only other consideration is what type of magazine the rifle should have. Honestly, I’d lean toward an internal box magazine with a hinged floor plate. I know many deer hunters prefer the convenience of a detachable magazine, and for those getting in and out of a vehicle a lot it definitely is an option, but I’d choose the box magazine just for its durability and because there is no chance of losing it. The type of magazine wouldn’t be a make-it-or-break-it factor for me and it really would depend a lot on your hunting style.


The cartridge

While I was writing this article, I threw a post up on my Facebook page asking my friends what cartridge they felt was ideal for the perfect deer rifle. Opinions ranged from the venerable 243 and way up to the 300RUM – but by far the greatest number of suggestions were in the 6.5mm to 7mm range and I would have to agree. There are a large number of cartridges in this range that can deliver a heavy-for-calibre bullet to get the job done, even at extended ranges. Heavy-for-calibre bullets are important, not because they kill better, but because they offer up a superior ballistic co-efficient and at longer ranges are less effected by the wind and hit at higher velocities, allowing for maximum bullet expansion and penetration. While lighter bullets typically leave the muzzle at higher velocities, once we start stretching ranges, the heavier bullet will actually retain its velocity better and will experience less wind drift – a very important consideration in the mountains and on the open prairies.

Personally, I’d look at one of the 6.5 cartridges, like the Creedmoor, 6.5×55, 6.5×284 or the 260AI at the smaller end of the scale, and the 270WSM, 280AI, 7mm08 or 7mm Remington Magnum at the upper end. Pretty well any cartridge capable of delivering a heavy-for-calibre bullet at velocities in the 2,800 to 3,000 feet-per-second range would be very well suited. The idea here is to find a cartridge with sufficient velocity, but still keep recoil down to a minimum. As this is going to a fairly light-weight rifle, recoil is a serious consideration. I’m currently having a 6.5 Creedmoor built in a sub-six-pound rifle for mountain hunting, but I can see it quickly becoming a favourite deer rifle as well. My two current favourites are a 270WSM and a 7mm Remington Magnum, but with heavier bullets the 7mm is a bit stout in the recoil department.

With the incredible array of bullets we have available today, these smaller calibres are offering up performance we have never seen before with traditional cup-and-core bullet construction.

As important as selecting the cartridge, is selecting the appropriate bullet for the game and ranges being shot. Deer are not difficult to kill with a well-placed shot, but we just want to ensure that the bullet is up to the task we are asking it to do. The great thing is, regardless of cartridge choice, you will find a bullet to suit your needs. You just need to be certain to select accordingly.


The scope

As this rifle is likely to be used on shots as close as 20 yards and as far as 600 yards, or possibly more, a variable scope is an absolute must. With some of the new offerings, it’s possible to get the best of both close range and long range magnification.

I would look at something in the three to 15 range, with an objective lens in the 40-45mm range. A scope of this size is going to add considerable weight to the rifle, but it’s weight well suited, in my opinion. You are asking a lot of one scope here and it comes with a cost – in this case, weight. There wouldn’t be much to gain by going to a larger objective lens, especially with higher quality optics, and you would further increase bulk and weight.

As this rifle will see both close and long-range use, it would need a scope capable of providing precise points of aim through the variety of ranges. Without question, I’d opt for a ballistic reticle over external hunting turrets on a deer rifle. Shots can often happen fast and with the ballistic reticle, no time is wasted turning turrets to adjust for range. There’s no doubt that external hunting turrets have their place, but on this rifle the KISS principle definitely applies.

While not everyone is comfortable shooting at long ranges, we are talking about the perfect deer rifle here. I took a white tail at 611 yards two years ago that I would not have taken without a scope suited to shooting at that range. There was quite literally no way to get closer and it was a shot I was well practiced at, so I never hesitated to take it. While we aren’t looking for a long-range specific rifle here, the perfect deer rifle would be capable of the long range shots if no other shot options were available.

As you can see, there are a lot of elements that go into determining the perfect deer rifle, but the good news is most of today’s rifle manufacturers offer at least one, and often several models, that fit the criteria perfectly. If it’s not in the budget, you don’t need to go out and have a rifle custom built for the application. You could easily get away with spending under $2,000 at your local gun shop for an off-the-shelf rifle and scope combination that would indeed be the perfect deer rifle.

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